Lunatic Mistress

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Things I Wish I Had Known Before Signing With That Agent (AKA mostly everything I knew about publishing was wrong)

A simple, down ‘n dirty list: 

1)    No one you know will comprehend what just happened to you (ie getting that agent, signing that contract with that agency), and as such no one you know will share your enthusiasm, or understand your sudden, “kinda creepy” effervescence.  I was lucky enough to know a few editors and published authors who know how ‘the biz’ works, and from these folks I got the most awesome of hugs and well-wishes, but everyone else got real bored when I told them I can’t quit my day job yet. (I DID know that I could not quit my day job, but if you’ve read any of my past entries you know I probably won’t anyway because I’m probably a wee masochistic)

2)    Speaking of, you have to explain to ALL of these people what’s going to happen next.  Takes away some of that effervescence, explaining how long it takes to get your book on the shelf in your favorite bookstore, and how you’ll likely not make much money off it anytime soon.  Which brings me to

3)    Best case scenario, if an editor at a publishing house likes your stuff, you’ll maybe see half your cash money advance on signing which the publishing house takes 6 months plus to draft your contract.  (NO ONE understands why this takes so long.  I am a practical person, and to me it SHOULD be as simple as USING A SIMILAR CONTRACT but there are likely nuances I do not understand and this is why I write books and not contracts. However.  I have asked MANY PEOPLE.  They all give me the equivalent of a shrug emoji.) You’ll see the other half maybe when it gets published. Which brings me to my next point which is

4)    Don’t quit your day job because at this point none of your stuff has been sold yet and you still have to pay rent, and also

5)    You will be asked to write your own author bio which is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating and weird that you have to refer to yourself in the third person and

6)    You will be asked “what else are you working on” by said agent which makes sense, considering they like what you write enough to want to make the both of you money, so it stands to reason that they would like to represent more things that can bring you both money.  Said agent needs to pay the rent too. If you’re smart, you’ll have multiple outlines with the first three chapters ready.  If you’re like me, you’ll have 12 chapters of something your agent doesn’t represent, and a couple of viable ideas you came up with in the shower.  But hey that can be set aside for the moment because finally

7)    (I DID also know this but…) you’re working on a revision.  Again.  Because there are a few tweaks that need to be made and frankly, the fast as molasses speed at which the publishing industry works you really need your best work to be sent out.

TL;DR:

No one will understand what just happened to you even though you’re finally allowed to leave the kiddie pool to swim with the adults, but it won’t matter anyway in the grand scheme of things because you still have to tweak and write.  And quite honestly, it’s the best, most validating feeling in the world. But yes, adulting is hard. Did I mention I’m likely a wee masochistic?

On Cutting My Losses

You may not know this, but my last project began as a simple Paranormal Fantasy.  After the first unsuccessful round of agent queries, I learned the art of letting go; I can’t speak for other writers, but that metaphor you hear re: finished projects being an artist’s “children”?  Completely true in my case, at least back then. Umpteenth rejections later, I was forced to consider the warts on my “child” and all its imperfections, and threw myself into an edit/revision bubble, during which this project morphed into a YA Paranormal Fantasy, this time with the assistance of a writers group. 

It stopped being a child at that point – I was a plastic surgeon, aiming for perfection.

Another round of submissions.

A brief flirtation with the concept of self-publishing, so brief I didn't even look into it.

Then two revise and resubmit offers, after which this project was turned down again.

Another round of edits.

Sometime in this endless death cycle I started developing an odd sense of detachment towards this project.  It was good – enough people who had no relation to me whatsoever had told me so, and I trusted them enough to believe—but it needed someone who loved it as much as I did to tell me what it needed, that extra, final push, to finally get sold.  I knew when people gave me advice on what to fix, what felt right, and what I’d brush off with a smile and a nod because it wouldn’t work.  I understand this is a gift from the Writing Gods, and trust me, I’m most grateful for it.  But would I find someone?  There were moments when I was consumed by the futility of it.  I’d tried to shelve the project before, but it always came roaring back, via a new connection, or a contest, or somesuch.

All the while my current WIP sat, waiting, not happy with the occasional 15-page chapter I’d write for it, but secure in its knowledge that I’d return.

At the beginning of this year I started submitting my previous project again, halfheartedly; it stemmed more with my general disillusionment of my life in general (I’m a person who needs to be doing something to improve my lot in life, and I get quite grumpy if I’m unable to do so.  Submitting seemed at the time to have the potential for faster results than finishing my WIP.).  And in February, lo and behold, a Full request!  Huzzah!

One by one the other agents I’d submitted to sent their regrets, until that one agent that requested the full was the only one in my Query Tracker that didn’t have a frowny face.  My One. Shining. Hope. And then, tragedy: abandoned by the head of her agency, neither she nor her clients had a home. 

While I have no doubt they’ll soon find one (Publishing, I swear, is as insular and adulterous as the Food industry I used to work in), I see this as a sign.  I cannot work on my WIP when I’m forever editing and submitting my previous project. 

That agent is the last person who will see my last project.

This blog post, then, is a written reminder to myself that I’m filing my previous project away, to devote my time to my WIP.  Maybe someday I’ll go back, but for now, the character voices of my WIP are becoming increasingly persistent. 

It’s time I gave them a bloody chance.

RIP, Family Demons.

On Character Personalities

In my early days of character creation, I had a simple litmus test.  I would write a scene in a place I knew (Usually a Denny's, one with a full bar, more on that later), with my problem characters and I sitting in a booth.  Denny's because they all look the same, so I didn't have to deal with setting overmuch.

You can figure out a lot about what makes a person tick by what they order at a Denny's, which is why the full bar is key.  Why do they order a drink at 1AM?  Why don't they?  Why do they steer clear of the Moons Over My Hammy?

These days the Denny's test supplements my character research using horoscopes, Western, Lunar, and Blood Type Theory, as well as finding a character's MBTI type.  That last isn't so simple, as I have to pre-select a type based on what I think would work, then cross-reference with the actual test.  And even with that, while one of the characters in my current project fit into her type rather easily, the other didn't like the ISFJ type I ended up with for him.  

And then the Denny's dialogue happened. And I've learned, when my characters "talk" to me (on paper, of course) there's usually a good reason - I'm going against their character.

"That's not right,"  he says. 

So I ask what's up. 

"I'm not a doormat.  ISFJ's are doormats. I don't get taken advantage of."  He's drinking bottled water, because Los Angeles water is gross (My view, not necessarily his.  He doesn't care one way or the other).  Sugary drinks aren't his thing, nor is hard liquor like the tequila I'm drinking across the booth from him.  He's usually on-call, so he doesn't like anything messing with his senses.

"Interesting that of all the traits in the profile you focused immediately on being taken advantage of."  I take a bite of my Lumberjack Slam (no toast). I DO love the crispy hash browns, and because this is fiction, I smear an extra helping of country sausage gravy over everything.  Fictional calories don't count!  Doesn't stop him from watching me ingest a heart attack on a plate and not comment.  He's a smart man.

"Don't psychoanalyze me.  I'm serious.  I love my job, I'm good at it, and I'm loyal, yada yada.  But the description even takes that and turns it negative--"

"You'd follow Margot to her grave if you had to."

"You're right, that's a negative."  He sighs, and he runs his hand through his hair.

"You think so?"  I take a small, tiny sip of my fictional tequila, because really, this is what I ordered it for.  Sometimes, my characters and I take shots if it gets real emotional.  

So this went on for about 7 pages, and at the end of it I got a pretty good sense of who he is, what he does on his off days, and why he'd follow Margot to the grave.

Over the years I've tried a while slew of exercises designed to help me know my characters (the sundry sites that force you through 100+ character questions still makes me twitch), but this is the method that's worked for me.

No method is the best, of course.  I'd love to read about what works for you!